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England to play 6 Nations with Lancaster as coach

Updated: December 08, 2011, 12:56

LONDON(AP) England will go into the Six Nations with Stuart Lancaster as head coach after the Rugby Football Union promoted him while it looks for a permanent replacement for Martin Johnson.

Rather than rush into a full-time appointment in the wake of Johnson's resignation, the RFU said Thursday it had asked the coach of its second-string Saxons to fill in during the Feb. 4-March 17 tournament.

The 42-year-old Lancaster, who is also RFU head of player development, will be assisted by Saracens club coach Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree.

Rowntree is the only coach retained from the lineup that oversaw a disastrous World Cup campaign beset by disciplinary issues and poor on-field performances. He had been assistant to Johnson since 2008 and was the only member of the coaching staff to escape criticism from players in a World Cup review leaked to a British newspaper.

"The World Cup was enormously disappointing but we shouldn't forget that England won 10 out of 13 games this year and a Six Nations title,'' Lancaster said. "We have a promising group of players to go forward with and the challenge for Graham, Andy and myself is to get the best out of them.''

England will pick its 30-man elite performance squad next month and Lancaster said he was looking forward to gathering the players at a January training camp.

"We want to get the culture right,'' Lancaster said. "We want to ensure we have a talented group of young players who are hungry for success, who are ambitious, who want to win things and it's our job as a coaching team to put that in place.''

But Lancaster is only likely to have even a slim chance of becoming head coach on a permanent basis if England successfully defends its Six Nations title.

The RFU is scouring world rugby for an experienced figure to lead its international coaching unit and contacted former South Africa and Italy coach Nick Mallett shortly after Johnson quit last month.

Mallett declined to pursue the matter but has since reconsidered and says only that he will not take any position before June.

A potential obstacle to Mallett's appointment was removed last week when the national team was taken away from the remit of RFU professional rugby director Rob Andrew. The English-born Mallett, who led South Africa to a record 17 straight test wins in 1997-98, said he was prepared to report only to the RFU board.

World Cup-winning All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith said this week he was interested in the position.

But for now, Lancaster will be the man under the spotlight.

While he is sure to retain the likes of Ben Foden, Ben Youngs, Chris Ashton, Delon Armitage and Manu Tuilagi from the World Cup squad, Lancaster needs a new captain after Lewis Moody quit international rugby and is likely to cast aside several older members.

"We have got a fantastic group of young players coming through,'' Lancaster said. "We have an opportunity to look at them and see how they get on on the international stage and I don't think we should shy away from that.''

England will open the Six Nations with its trio of coaches against Scotland at Murrayfield.

"All three of us are really excited about the opportunity ahead,'' Lancaster said. "Andrew has done an outstanding job at Saracens and the Saxons; Graham has enormous respect from the players and has vast experience and I am confident that we can work well together as a coaching team.''

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